This is what Twitter is for…

This is the longest blog I’ve ever written. See if you can make it to the end….; -)

A few days ago I read a series of tweets that made me really quite cross.

So that’s nice.

Being the generous person that I am, I shall now share my crossness with you, so that we can be cross together. It’ll be like our own little cross party convention. Only without the politics. Or most normal conventions.

So, not like a cross party convention at all, really. Just a rant, and then something nice.

I shan’t repeat the actual tweets, or name the person who wrote them (because, quite frankly, I’m terrified of entering into some author-author gladiatorial word-combat which I shall lose by some considerable margin) but it was basically saying how despicable and sphincter-clenching the practice of re-Tweeting good reviews or compliments about one’s books is.

(If you don’t use Twitter, this may confuse you. All I can suggest is that you get on there pronto, and learn…it’s a fun party.)

What raised my authorish hackles was not only this stinging, condescending comment about people who creepily share their good news with all their followers; it was my reaction to it.

Yeah, I thought. God, that’s SO sphincter-clenching. Mine is clenching itself into a little puckery kiss right now.
How pathetic those crawling people are, to parp their feeble little trumpets to all their followers. How desperate can they BE – telling everyone that someone out there actually LIKED their book, like some kind of free, public, vomit-inducing piece of self love?

It’s career masturbation, and nobody needs that rammed down their throats.

But then I relaxed my sphincter for a moment and, after the air had cleared (sorry…) thought:
Hang on. This is complete bollocks. If people want to re-tweet compliments in a medium that’s designed for the sharing of information and in which people case choose whether to receive it or not, why the heck not??!
I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.
Are we so despicable?

No, I think not, and here’s why: we self-employed types require food to prevent ourselves from dying. It’s shamefully demanding, I know, but there it is. And as if this weren’t diva-ish enough, we also need a place to live – I know!  Those who are selfish enough to have children seem to feel it necessary to feed and clothe and provide beds for these offspring.

All of this self-indulgent ‘me, me, me’ requires money.
And in order to make money, we feeble, self-congratulating, trumpet blowing bottom-dwellers have to sell something. This can be anything – some old bits of carpet, little pot pourri bags we make on our free Sunday nights, our own mothers…anything really.

For those of us who write, the thing we’d ideally like to sell is our WORDS, and the best way to do this is to get someone to BUY these words.

And this is, as Lola might say, extremely, very, completely difficult.

Any writer reading this will know the drill, but for those out there who sensibly have what’s known as a Proper Job, involving pay cheques and sick leave and holidays and a stationery cupboard you can nick all your paper from, here’s how it goes:
first of all you write. And then you write some more. And then you write more and more and more and more and more and more, until you almost die of the dreaded Obsessive Writing Fever, which causes all your fingers to fall off and your soul to crumble to dust.

Luckily there is gin, and box sets of Mad Men.

When you’ve written enough to fill three houses, you throw 95% of it away, burn a further 3%, try to kill yourself because the last three years of your life have just been deleted or burned or pickled in gin, and then spend what money you don’t have left on the Writer’s And Artist’s Yearbook, and a fork-lift truck to get it home.
Then, having spent a weekend in Staples trying to get a teenager to print your lovely words onto A4 paper so that it doesn’t run off the edge of the page, and then done it all again because you forgot to make it double-spaced, and the again because you forgot to put your name on each page….you send what’s left of your scribblings to an agent.

Who then rejects it out of hand.
After a month in tears, you go out and get pissed with a good friend, who – very kindly – encourages you to Believe In Yourself, and Never Give up. So you pay for another few copies of your Killer Manuscript, and send it to another agent. And then another, and another and another.

Then you go back to Staples to buy a new filing cabinet, to house the tidal wave of rejection letters, which you hope one day to look at, wistfully, in your oak-panelled office in Hampstead, now that you are a hugely successful author. And so it goes on.

The point is that getting published is extremely hard these days. And making money out of writing is even harder. So if you do, finally, reach that glorious moment of seeing your book on a shelf, and – praise be! – receive a letter or a Tweet from a reader who actually LIKED it….OF COURSE you are going to tell everyone you know about it! Because the more people who know about it, the bigger the chance that you might sell a second copy. And then, as you hardly dare hope, a third.

Further book deals depend entirely on sales. So if one goes badly, you’re screwed, basically. And if it goes well, you could be looking at a second deal one day. Making this happen is not up publicists, PR people or sales teams, as might once have been the case. They certainly help, but these days it’s up to YOU to sell your wares.
You are your sales, marketing and advertising team. And places like Twitter are fab-u-lous, dahling, at raising awareness and meeting like-minded people, also shitting bricks that they may never see a paycheque again.

Of course, repeated re-tweeting and trumpet blowing can become annoying, and the idea with Twitter, as with real life, is not to piss people off. But SOME sharing of compliments, and messages of support is not only OK, it’s completely understandable. Just perhaps not if you are a hugely successful, highly paid journalist, living in Notting or Primrose or whatever other Hill these people all live in.

I’m not bitter, by the way. Not at all. I’m pleased for their success. Some of them even deserve it. (I think the writer of the cross-making tweets does, as it happens.)
But I just hope that one day, should I ever reach such great heights, I won’t forget what it was like to be starting out. To be so desperate for encouraging words, positive feedback and HOPE, that I would sink so low as to share with others when someone liked my books, in the hope that it might make someone else aware of what I write and go and buy one too.

So if you have good news, you go right ahead and share it, baby. I won’t find it ‘beyond ghastly’. My underarms won’t prickle with shame on your behalf. I will completely understand why you did it, be happy for your good news, and high five you from afar.

And, if it happens too often and starts to piss me off, I’ll discretely ‘unfollow’ you, rather than berating you and knocking your self-confidence with a cutting Tweet.

And hey, if you like this blog…Re-Tweet it. Share it. Big it up. And I’ll do the same for you. Because even though I’m lucky enough to have had three successful books published and be working on my fourth now, I’m still pretty near the bottom near rung of the ladder too…and we all need a leg-up sometimes.

See you at the top, folks 🙂


The point of social networking is not, I think, to criticise people for sharing their news, but to come together as a kind of weird, online, supportive, creative community. I’ve met some amazing people on Twitter. People I’ve come to think of as professional ‘friends’, and who may even one day become actually friends. Unless they’re psychos, in which case I might just run away very fast.
Some, though by no means all (I’ve had to omit LOADS, so I hope they forgive me) are:

@neversarah @karamina (who is going to be a famous author one day) @SCallejo @nettiewriter @UKPizzaLover (who doesn’t make pizzas) @DaddyNatal (who runs antenatal classes for Dads, in pubs – genius) @melliebuse @littlefishmusic (who are, quite simply EXTRAORDINARY, and also adorable, clever people) @cafebebe @rebeccaebrown @cambridgemummy @hughbon (yes, HIM. But you know, he does actually write back from time to time, which I think is rather lovely and not up-my-own-arse-ish) @writermels

Thank you all for the laughs, thoughts, and good Twitter spirit. May the sweet smell of success kiss your cheeks, and may you let us all know when that happens 🙂


16 thoughts on “This is what Twitter is for…

  1. Anthony


    In common with many writerly types, I am reading and commenting when I should be doing something more productive, so thanks for that …

    On this occasion though, it’s been a few minutes well-spent. I’ve seen some of those comments on self-congratulatoriness and went through precisely the same range of emotions. I think it’s some inner conflict between consumer and producer, and when it comes to it the deep-seated need to provide is going to win out. It’s the carer/hunter-gatherer in all of us.

    So I’m with you on this (and the delights of Twitter, Mad Men, and the glorious barminess of being a writer-in-progress). And I laughed. That’s priceless.

  2. Rebecca Brown

    What a brilliant post. I completely agree, as I hope that one day I’ll be asking people to share my celebration about some Writing-Related successes, and I cheer 100% for people I hear doing well. I feel good for my friends and I keep being reminded that one day it could be me, it renews hope. Also, from the point of view of ReTweeter – If I’ve read a good book I want to tell people!

    And thank you for the mention – very kind, and heartily returned!

  3. Gill Fraser Lee

    Well said! The ‘unfollow’ option is always there for those times when clenching becomes too painful, and in the meantime, a little human kindness and understanding is always a good thing. Sadly, for many (or possibly most), writing will only ever be a hobby and being published a dream. But there is no doubt that feeling part of a community of writers and sharing ups and downs can be really rewarding for anyone who writes. I confess I think a goodly dollop of British self-deprecation goes a long way in these circumstances. I still feel slightly queasy about a tweet I recall from someone, genuinely, saying how great they were. I’m still following them, so obviously it didn’t annoy me too much! But for those times when there IS good news, then I’m happy to join in the hoorays! And let’s hope there’s lots of them.

  4. Sarah Callejo

    As you say, it’s all in the balance. I’ve read many books this past year written by people I met on twitter. Mostly I’ve read them because I liked the person and wanted to read their book, but others it was thanks to retweets or positive comments on their successes that I got interested.
    I have however unfollowed several people who wouldn’t interact with us and only promoted their book, I found it boring.
    I’m not a psycho, will you be my friend?

  5. nettiewriter

    I hear you, Liz, and most times when I share a ‘good news’ link I flag it with a ‘shameless self-promotion’ badge. That way I’m admitting to people that I know I’m pushing myself, that I’d quite like you to know about my good news/blog/smattering of success and that I’m aware that I’m only thisfar from prostituting myself on-line.
    Like Sarah, I have bought, read and on the whole enjoyed books written by friends I have met online. There are others whose books I wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole, precisely due to their never-ending self-promotion.
    Oh, unlike Sarah, I am a psycho. But, you know, the good kind.

  6. alisonwells

    Yes, sadly blowing the trumpet is mostly left to authors and would be authors these days and even if it’s not a comfortable thing to do it is necessary. In ye olde times there were patrons as well as profiteers but nowadays the thing is to be seen, to be newsworthy in some way as well as? being talented in order to be a good publishable product. These are the facts of writing life. What we all try to do, particularly on Twitter is to as you say give each other a leg up, to help create a reciprocal rising tide of success for the goodly people we know. But it has to be balanced as Sarah says, I am thrilled for people’s successes, love to hear about their work and buy it if it interests me but I don’t want to be marketed to all the time. In the same way I will share what I am doing but i want to come across as a real human being who writes not a marketing machine.

    1. Julie

      Probably one of the best things about twitter is being able to link up with so many
      people who have a similar outlook or one that is of interesting if challenging. Sometimes
      if you have written 2 books or work hard at your own direction in life – not everyone
      understands that it is bloody hard work and a large degree of that work can be other
      people’s attitudes towards any degree of ‘success’. From twitter it is possible to be
      in contact with people who actually understand and will joke about the ‘let down’ which
      goes with being pushed aside by a magazine or paper as Liz says a waste paper basket filled over and over again with torn up sheets of effort! In our case we also make cakes and when questioned
      by someone who insists on questioning us sometimes has a problem dealing with the reality!
      I passionately believe that we are all equal, on twitter we are, don’t follow anyone you don’t like!
      Laugh and joke with those you enjoy! Form friendships with people who just laugh when you
      admit to still being in your dressing gown at 11am having had no time to get dressed. There
      is no need to lie be yourself, then we are able to laugh together, learn from each other and
      over a period of time, begin to know each other well so that we can genuinely enjoy others
      success. I guess I’ve said enough now (sorry!) but it is great to find you are not entirely
      psycho simply being able to be in contact with lots of other psycho people 🙂

  7. Sarah Duncan

    It’s a tricky one. After the long list for Romantic Novel of the Year was announced (which I’m on, hooray!) a writer friend DM’d me to complain gently at how hard it was to listen to all the congratulatory messages going around, and how she was going to see if there was some way to stop it.

    I don’t want her to feel bad, I really don’t. But on the other hand, I’m on the list! Hooray! Should I not say anything or ask people not to congratulate me because it upsets her? Sure, I get upset when people gaily tweet that they’ve just sold x thousand copies to Tesco but if there’s a lot of self congratulation going round I absent myself from the party until it dies down.

    Besides, I expect most writers NEED to announce their good news on Twitter to get any sort of positive reaction because family and friends simply don’t understand. Typical exchange: I’m on the longlist! Hey, well done, what’s for supper?

    Like Sarah C, I unfollow people who only promote themselves and their books and won’t engage in a friendly way.

  8. Rachael

    Hahahaha. What a fab and wonderful blog post. As I sit here with a) tonsillitis from workingmyselftodeathness finishing my book and b) an aching shoulder from writing said book on a blooming tiny notebook laptop, the verdict is in: I have a terminal case of Obsessive Writing Fever. And when I’m a famous author one day we can do glamorous floating around book launches together. In a psycho sort of way. Hope the lucky pants worked today. xx

  9. Stewart C.Bailey

    Twitter has kept me sane.

    I am a loner in the real world & get very nervous in a crowd & have very few real friends so spend a lot of my time indoors & I’ll talk to anyone about anything & love making new online friends the world over.

    Long may it last & if you wish to follow me please do & I will follow you back @stewpot

  10. writermels

    I loved this post, Liz. It made me giggle when you talked about cringing. I’ve retweeted out ‘nice’ things (well they do say them once in a while) when someone comments that they can’t wait to read my books! It’s the hope factor for me!

    Like Sarah above, sometimes it gets me down to read of everyone’s good news but I also think that it keeps me going too. I’ve read umpteen books this past few months from writers I’ve got to know via twitter, liked how they have intereacted with me, keeping it real. So when I see their book when I’m out or I click on their website, I’m more inclined to buy it as I ‘know’ the author, if that makes sense.

    I’m not published… yet (said tongue in cheek) and Ii apologise now for the huge tweet if I ever do get a book deal. But I do like to be part of things by tweeting about my writing process/progress. Like another commentor said, there is an unfollow button (and I often talk about shoes!)

    For me, it’s the authors that blatanly tweet out about their books that don’t do it for me. But in the main, the people I interact with, a lot of them leaving comments on here, are a mighty fine bunch of people, writers or not.

  11. Julia Crouch

    God, I hope it wasn’t me. I rushed to look at my tweets and they’re not ALL self promotion and RTs of nice words said etc, although there are a few in there, and if they got boring, I’m sorry.

    But, from my point of view – I’m where all the years slogging have gathered together to form a great, glorious pimple called debut novel which, (if you’ll pardon the distasteful extended metaphor) is about to burst into publication – what do I do?

    Apart from the unworldly excitement of my up-till-now very private writing activity going public, there is also the requirement, so often mentioned in the blogosphere, for ‘new’ (ie recently- or soon-to-be-published) writers to create a platform for ourselves. I’ve never had to do that before, and it’s difficult to know if you’re pitching it at the right angle.

    I think I’m not the only one who has come to Twitter at the suggestion of agent or publisher in order to do just that platform-building thing. But I realise now that it is so much more than a means to shout out about my novel, and I love the new, like-minded people it is putting me in touch with. But it’s a slow burn and a steep learn. With experience, I hope I will become a little wiser. And please, feel free to tell me to shut up if I get on your tits. Likewise, if your pimple isn’t yet at bursting point, please feel free watch me cock up and learn from my mistakes.

    NB I have not mentioned the name of my novel once. How about that.

    1. lizfraser Post author

      Hi Julia. Thanks for this great reply…and no, it most certainly wasn’t you!!! Rest easy. I assure you it wasn’t. And you’d be MORE than welcome to share news of your novel here 🙂


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